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You may have heard them called graduated fills or fountain fills or gradations. Whatever you call them, gradients are fill patterns in which one color transitions seamlessly into another and another and so on. You define the location and color of the points in the gradient. Illustrator figures out how the colors should blend in between. If you're familiar with previous versions of Illustrator, you know a gradient can flow in a straight line or concentric circles. If you want to swap out a color or modify its position, you make that change remotely from the Gradient palette.
And that's still true, but in CS4 there's a new player in town, the vastly improved Gradient tool. Now you can edit colors directly inside a shape, position each and every color in the gradient, stretch a radial gradient to make an elliptical, and position the hotspot Plus a gradient can be translucent. Frankly, I don't remember there being any outcry over the way gradients used to work in previous versions, but there's no doubt, Illustrator CS4's implementation of gradients is way better.
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